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An increasing number of active Christians claim that demonism is behind many problems that are declared as "psychological" or "medical."

Mainly, it is deliverance ministers and exorcists making such claims. And there is certainly material to support it in the way that Jesus healed (so often casting out evil spirits first; the word "demon" appears more than seventy times in the New Testament, often in association with a healing).

But what does a doctor say?

In the case of Dr. Josiah Rambally, who penned a chapter for a book called Health Smart [see below], there are times when someone thought to be demonized is actually suffering a natural malady and times when someone is treated for a physical or psychiatric ailment that's actually caused by a spirit (the dark kind).

Dr. Josiah -- who did his internship in Trinidad -- relates, for instance, the account of a woman named Betty who was skin and bones and dying, unable to swallow.

"Together with Betty's doctor, I reviewed her case and scrutinized all medical charts, comments, and notes," he says. "Quite rapidly, I was beginning to realize and acknowledge that all investigations had indeed been exhausted and even the specialists at the hospital could not help Betty anymore."

They were at the rope's end.

That was when Dr. Rambally did something not all doctors do -- turned to prayer -- and felt compelled to arrange a prayer session.

Despite opposition from medical staff ("Do you honestly believe that church prayers will help?" one doctor asked), Betty was signed out of the hospital, taken to a church, and "prayed over" for many hours.

Just after midnight, there was the first sign (with a hot drink) that she could swallow.

By quarter to six in the morning -- during this all-night session, as they sang "To God be the Glory" -- "one of the greatest miracles yet of my experiences [occurred]," recounts Dr. Rambally in the book. "Betty suddenly stood up with support and started to sing along with the congregation!"

A woman who could hardly move was now able to function of her own volition.

Evil had been cast out -- and she fully recovered with a balanced protein diet, vitamins, and an iron supplement (much to the disbelief of the other doctors).

"Were it not for Divine intervention, she would be peacefully resting in her grave," says Dr. Rambally. "The devil was hiding behind an apparent natural illness to confound medical science and thereby destroy a precious human being without hindrance."

At the same time, Dr. Rambally notes that many times the malady is natural -- not the devil (in his discernment).

For example, common to both demonization and mental illness are attempts at suicide. When a person is mentally ill, he says, they do not express the fear or distaste of the Bible that the demonized do (at least those who are blatantly demonized; the devil can also be subtle). Well-intentioned healers can thus deprive a schizophrenic or other mentally-ill person of proper medical treatment, when the devil it may not be.

In another case a 100-pound woman tossed away four strong men, like they were flies. (She was cured through prayer.)

That was easy to discern.

But what are the ways to distinguish between natural disorders and the demonic in more subtle cases?

Many times, a demon may not start an illness but rather exacerbate physical weaknesses.

In Dr. Rambally's opinion, you first see what the person's reaction is to the Name of Jesus (obviously, a demonic case will bring about a violent reaction). Demonized people -- like the aforementioned woman -- show supernatural strength (or knowledge). The demonized will not repeat the Name of Jesus or read from Scripture. And while demon possession may pass from one person to another, mental illness usually does not. Meanwhile, a case of the demonic may involve the fingers twisting, when in fact a normal human can't twist the fingers in such a way, sane or insane.

"Considering the daily pressures of life that most of us face, it takes, at the very best of times, a willfulness of spirit to retain our wits about us, so that we're not afflicted with mental illness," says Dr. Rambally. "However, we require a power that is ordinarily beyond our mere capabilities and which is stronger than our natural inclinations, if we are to fight back the enemy of our souls.

"I therefore start with the premise that certain groups of individuals are more at risk than others; simply put, it is much easier for the devil to control a sick mind than a healthy mind."

It gets back to physical -- and spiritual -- balance.

[Health Smart is available through Dr. Walter Thompson's website]

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